A reader and Facebook friend named Kristine wrote me the following the other night:
Just read your article on Calvinism. It’s not often that I come across anyone who really understands it or understands the effect it has on people who deconvert from it. It isn’t like most of Christianity. It’s so different from Arminianist belief that it’s as different a religion, in fundamentals, as Mormonism.
My parents started out as Jesus freaks in southern California. They moved to so many different churches… Foursquare, the original Vineyard, several Calvary Chapels, some community churches, etc. They were always sure this new church was the right one.
As an adult, I got away from the whole Pentecostal thing. I read a lot and was influenced by dominionist, reconstructionist, reformed writers. Some Calvinist and some not. Where we finally ended up was a small church connected with a small seminary. They definitely were Calvinist though they said that was not enough of a description to define their theology. The Calvinist v. Arminian theology is one thing, but add into it dispensationalism and it becomes a very odd and rare brand of Christianity. These people were anti-dominionist, ant-reconstructionist, anti-reformed. They used the Scoffield bible. We were in that church ten years. My parents quickly followed us.
Whenever I read ex-Christian now or listen to anti-theists talk about Christianity, NONE of them are talking about the same insanity I came out of. This is troubling to me. I was very brainwashed and still suffer from it. It helps me to see my old beliefs mercilessly dissected and shown to be wrong. But I don’t find it often. The closest I come to it is reading your posts. Reading about your experience with Calvinism was very good for me.
So, did you ever get into dispensationalism?? In the same way Calvinism really does a better job of reconciling scripture, dispensationalism does even more. It was what got deepest into my soul and made it so hard to break free. All the “debunking” arguments don’t work as well on it.
We got talking and I was not really familiar with the kind of intricate dispensational theology she had studied relatively intensely. She explained some of it to me:
What they meant was that god had different plans/prescriptions, economies at different times. First innocence, then human government, then the law, then the kingdom. However, this time we are in now, grace, was a mystery added in as a parentheses because the Jews rejected his earthly kingdom. That is put off until all the chosen are saved. So… We don’t follow the law AT ALL and it’s a lack of faith to do do when we have something better. This better thing is living the life of a priest.
This was the foundation of their belief: [they] didn’t even want us reading too much of OT or gospels. Just Romans and after… Jesus’ teachings are not for us.
What is so interesting about this was she was trying to communicate that even though the only reason to believe any of this is the Bible and these people’s weird and arbitrary hermeneutics, and even though she is enough of an atheist that she has endured being disowned by her family, nonetheless she has doubts grip her. What she was saying in her first reply was she needed something like I did (really just a little of) in the post she referenced at the top, which is to walk through the actual intricacies of the theology and unravel its knots.
Even though she gets the foundational, epistemological points which should make all niggling over details of dispensationalist sophistry, she needs people who get what she has been drilled to think in spite of herself. She is not the only atheist I have met like this, but it’s troubling to realize some atheists struggle with this stuff. I never have since becoming an atheist. I’ve never found theological sorcery the least bit compelling again.
When I suggested I should write about this phenomenon of atheists who need all the ludicrous details of theology debunked point by point she exclaimed “Yes!!!” twice.
So here you go, Kristine, I’m telling the atheist world. If you happen to have some arcane knowledge of theology you don’t believe in in the slightest but can spend hours dissecting for its absurdities and falsities, take the time. There is an audience. There maybe should even be a whole blog. All those theology classes don’t have to go to waste after all.